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FLORA — On paper it had to be a good game. The Class 2A No. 7-ranked Clinton Prairie Gophers brought their one-loss record to Carroll to face the undefeated and No. 5-ranked Cougars, and the winners would find themselves perched on top of the Hoosier Heartland Conference.

When the final buzzer sounded, Carroll’s record was still unblemished, as the Cougars topped Clinton Prairie, 45-43, in a contest that lived up to its pregame promise.

And it took right up to that final buzzer for the game to be decided. Prairie’s Jonas Knipp hit a free throw to tie the game at 43-43 with 2:30 to go. Following a Carroll turnover and a Prairie missed shot, the Cougars got the ball and called timeout with 1:54 left. Carroll coach Bodie Bender chose to take the air out of the ball, calling 3 more timeouts at :43.9, :14.0 and :04.2 leading up to the deciding shot.

Chris Huerta inbounded the ball under the Cougars’ basket and got it right back. Huerta made a quick move on the baseline and pulled up for a short jumper. That shot found nothing but net to put Carroll on top 45-43. After the referees gathered to discuss, Prairie was granted a timeout with :01 left. Their half-court desperation shot banged off the backboard to end the game.

“Give Chris credit,” Carroll coach Bodie Bender said. “That wasn’t how we drew up the final play, but he made a play when we needed it.”

The Cougars (10-0, 3-0 HHC) started the game on fire, hitting 5 of 7 3-point shots to start the game. Owen Duff was 3 for 3 in the opening quarter and Jake Skinner hit both of his long-range attempts.

“That quick start was probably why we won,” Bender said. “Jake and Owen hit some big shots and got us off to a 17-7 start. These kids have played in big games before. They were in the sectional final last year and all-in-all are not fazed.”

Thanks to that big start, Carroll never trailed in the game, but Prairie (12-2, 3-1) never let them get too far out of reach. Carroll would pull away to a comfortable lead, then the Gophers would come roaring back. The Cougars led by as many as 10 in the second quarter, but that advantage was trimmed to 29-24 at halftime. A fast start to the second half gave Carroll its biggest lead of the game, 37-26, but Prairie closed the gap to 40-36 after three.

A 3-pointer from the left corner by Skinner gave Carroll a 43-37 lead with 6:58 left in the game, then both teams slowed the game down. Three Carroll turnovers allowed Prairie to score the next six points, setting up Huerta’s game winner.

“We knew they would make a run at us,” Bender said. “How we would sustain our lead was the question. McGraw and Funk are a tough matchup and [coach Chad Peckinpaugh’s] system puts them in great spots. Chad’s a fun coach to compete against.”

Skinner led all scorers with 20 points on outstanding 7-of-9 shooting from the field, including five 3-pointers on six tries. Duff added four treys for 12 points.

The Gophers were led by McGraw’s 17. Funk scored 12 points and had a game-high six rebounds.

The last time Carroll started a season 10-0 was in 2008-09. That streak ended with an overtime loss to Northwestern. The Cougars hope to extend that streak to 11-0 tonight when they travel to Pioneer.

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